There is a little boy named Charlie, sleeping in a state of blessed unawareness an ocean away from us, while judges, doctors and his own parents fight over his future.
He lives in England, where they have laws that allow the government to decide what is in a child’s best interest, even though his loving parents think otherwise. We Americans have those laws, too, and we use them against mothers and fathers who beat their precious innocents. We also use them against well-meaning parents who reject science and embrace faith — only faith — in an attempt to cure their children of grave illnesses.
But we have never, to my knowledge, stopped parents from using their own money buy the best treatment possible. That is what Charlie Gard’s parents have been fighting so desperately to do these 10 months of his fragile existence. The doctors in the U.K. have told Connie Yates and Chris Gard that there is no chance their baby will have a normal life. They insist that the genetic disease with which he was born, which has left him brain-damaged, will doom him to a life of suffering. They want him to “die with dignity.”
Charlie’s parents don’t want him to die with dignity. They don’t want him to die at all. So they raised more than $1.6 million to bring him to the United States, a country that still believes in the inherent value of hope and science to challenge the mandate of destiny and say, “Not so fast, we’re not finished running this race.”
Despite the things that anger me about my fellow Americans, I still love you. It comes from having lived abroad for several years, from speaking other languages and being able to infiltrate the mindset of “non-Americans” without the barrier of awkward translation, from helping those “non-Americans” become legal and full-fledged members of this society. For all of our flaws — and they’ve become painfully more evident every day since Nov. 8 — we are fundamentally a nation that recognizes the value of human life.
If this were not the case, we wouldn’t still be fighting a battle some thought was decided 44 years ago when they legalized abortion. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t have people marching in the streets because they think that health care is being denied to the most vulnerable. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t look at drug addicts as victims of a disease, instead of what other societies consider them to be: weak and expendable.
And that’s why baby Charlie should be here, in the hands of pediatric surgeons, neurologists and geneticists. We need to get rid of that insipid, dishonest phrase “death with dignity” which really just means a swift death that doesn’t drain our resources.
Some people in America have swallowed that vile, nihilistic lie that we need to prioritize those who have a “chance” at a life of quality. They make a cost-benefit analysis based on the accepted societal metrics for “fulfillment,” and impose a draconian version of “normal” on those we choose to save. Will that child be born with Down syndrome? Abortion is the kindest option. Should that elderly grandfather be kept on dialysis? It’s a strain on his children and their pocketbooks; let’s rethink the protocols.
But, for my sanity, I must believe these Americans are the exception to the rule.
The U.K., France and many other countries in Western Europe and elsewhere, including Canada, can vaunt their compassionate systems of health care where everyone is “covered” by insurance and everyone is treated equally, the mythically beautiful “single payer.” The only problem is, “equal” is defined by the lowest common denominator, where you are forced to wait months, if not years, for tests, operations and even routine appointments. Family members have lived abroad, I have lived abroad and I deal every day with people who live abroad, so I’m not writing fiction.
Of course, our system stinks. It’s been tinkered with, tampered with and stretched to an untenable limit. But at least at this stage, we don’t do triage on babies and decide like calm executioners who gets to live and who dies.
Which brings me back to little Charlie. His parents want to bring him here, to a place where doctors like the great Ben Carson challenged God, and the surgeons at our magnificent hospitals create miracles from the arid dust of hopeless diagnoses. Charlie’s parents raised money on their own to do so. But a European “human rights” court stripped them of the right to seek a future for their child.
Let’s raise holy hell and tell the doctors where they can shove their “death with dignity.” Call the British embassy at 202-588-6500. Email Britishembassyenquiries@gmail.com or General.firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s show them that we, at least, care.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.